The Tyranny of the Review System

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and it received a 1 star review on Trip Advisor recently. The headline read “very steep and too high”. Other complaints from the disappointed visitor included the lack of facilities at the top and the cloud that obscured his view.

I found this comforting (as well as hilarious) because we have also had a few less than perfect reviews recently. The Coronavirus crisis has sent us some visitors who would not usually have chosen to stay with us. Mostly they are one night stays in the B&B rooms. Lots of businesses choose not to accept one night stays as the workload in terms of cleaning, laundry and bed making is very high for little return. Once you have factored in the cost of a breakfast and the commission (if the booking came from booking dot com or AirBNB) the profit can be as little as 5€. Not much for a full day’s work cleaning and shopping and another reason why booking direct with the owner is a great idea.

But mostly what we dislike about one night stays is that we don’t get a chance to build a relationship with the guest. They are not coming to stay with us at Le Moulin de Pensol they just want a bed for the night. Therefore they often don’t “get” what we are about. They are accustomed to large hotel chains and don’t understand why a meal requested at 8pm, with no warning, can’t be magically made to appear. There is little time to walk round the grounds with us and discuss our environmental philosophy or what we are trying to do here, as our longer stay gite guests do. Hence we can get some ropey reviews which feel unfair and are a kick in the teeth after a long hard summer.

My personal low point this summer was the wealthy family travelling down to a family wedding in a chateau. They turned up in an enormous luxury car and asked if I could feed them. I made them all pizza with salads from the garden and only charged them a nominal 5€ per head for the kids. They ate every scrap and said it was delicious. They went in the pool and had a walk round and we gave them a free beer. They asked if they could check out late the next day and although we were busy and needed to change the room over we said yes so they stayed til after lunch. I gave the kids an ice lolly as it was hot and we wished them well for their journey. A few days later the review came in. 8/10. This was our first score of the summer that had not been 10/10. Booking dot com asks guests to review specific categories and imagine my delight to see that we’d been given a 7.5 for value for money.

Nik’s favourite was the woman who booked last minute with two dogs. Dogs aren’t really allowed in the B&B rooms but this is very difficult to explain on as we do allow, and indeed encourage, dogs in the gites, so we don’t make a fuss when some slip through the net. Again, I cooked them a meal which they hadn’t ordered in advance (in fact she had specific dietary requirements and he was given Nik`s dinner). The woman had a lovely time playing with the dogs in the river. This was in the middle of the heatwave. When we came to change the room the next day we found that she had allowed the dogs to sleep on the bed and our white bed linen was filthy and soaking wet. She had also fed the dogs by putting meat straight into the bathroom floor and had used one of our Tupperware tubs as a water bowl. We knew what she’d fed them because she’d left the empty dirty tins on the floor. We shrugged and grumbled and put it down to experience. But when the review came in she had scored us 5/10 for cleanliness. She also added in the comments that it was a cheek to charge an extra 10€ per night for a dog and said that the room was damp. It certainly isn’t normally although I suppose with two wet dogs on your bed in a humid heatwave it may have felt like it.

Then we had a guy come and stay who asked if he could fly his drone after he had checked out. We said that would be fine and he said he would return at lunchtime. We had to go out shopping and were a bit surprised to see him and his wife sitting outside our house on our return. This too was mid heatwave and they looked hot so I fetched them a jug of iced water. “Did you not start?” said Nik. “No we were waiting for you” came the reply. We explained they didn’t need to wait for us and we were really busy so they must excuse us. He messed about with his drone for a bit before declaring that he couldn’t get a mobile phone signal and giving up. He gave us 7/10 – a peevish score on a one night stay that was OVER when our lack of attention earned us his wrath.

Finally there are the people who wax lyrical about what a beautiful place we have, what great hosts we are, what a relaxing night they spent, how perfect the breakfast was, then give us 6/10 like a gentleman did only today. He took the precaution of flooding the bathroom before he left just to hammer his point home. The water leaked through into the room below. Bon voyage Monsieur!

On booking dot com if the guest doesn’t write a comment with their review and just leaves a score, we can’t reply. This feels very unfair and as with drone man above, we have no chance to explain. A family once gave us 3 out 5 stars on Air BNB and we were devastated because we had got on really well and they’d had a wonderful time. When I messaged them to ask what had gone wrong they were mortified and said it was a mistake and they had intended to give us 5 stars. We both contacted AirBNB to take the review down but they refused.

So like poor old Ben Nevis, we often feel unfairly maligned by the review system. It’s a necessary evil in the hospitality industry and I know I must suck it up and when it doesn’t go our way, and as the song goes I must “let it go.” But it’s hard when we put our heart and soul into this place. I would ask next time you give a review to any business– be kind, be generous, make your words and score match each other and ensure that they reflect your overall experience. Don’t be afraid to give full marks. Or as my Mum used to say, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, maybe it’s best to say nothing at all.

Le Moulin de Pensol is currently rated 9.6/10 on Booking dot com, 4.9/5 on Google and 5* on Facebook.